Leacys keep it in family as Wexford take the title
THEY made a brave effort to steal it in the dying stages, but Croke Park proved 'Heartbreak Hotel' yet again for Galway camogie yesterday as Wexford narrowly held out to clinch their second senior title in four years.
Defeat in the intermediate final thwarted the Slaneysiders' big double ambitions, but their seniors added the championship to this year's league crown and, with their fifth title, proved that their 2007 victory was no one-hit wonder.
And one Wexford family was able to celebrate its own unique double, as Una Leacy lifted the O'Duffy Cup to match her equally brilliant older sister Mary, who captained them in 2007.
Daughters of Margaret O'Leary, who herself made camogie's 'Team of the Century', the Leacy girls led by example again yesterday when Wexford's seven-point half-time lead dwindled to just two, after they conceded a silly goal just as the game moved into injury-time.
"It's the best feeling in the world, I never thought this would happen," said Una Leacy after equalling her older sister's achievement.
But the centre-forward, whose barnstorming surging runs did so much to open up Galway's defence in the first half, admitted that there were times during that second-half siege when she got flashbacks to their last victory.
"It was very like the 2007 final; we got off to a brilliant start again and were under pressure in the second half. But thankfully that's two years we're after holding out now.
"Our defence stood out all year. You couldn't ask for tighter or more dependable backs; they've given everything," Leacy enthused.
A brilliant start saw Wexford lead by 1-8 to 0-4 at half-time but their goalkeeper Mags D'Arcy had to be alert just five minutes after the re-start when Jessica Gill stood up to take a penalty that she had earned herself.
The St Martin's 'keeper deflected it well but she and a few more defenders were at fault in the dying minutes when Aisling Connolly's 35m free somehow crept over all their heads into the top left corner of the net to set up the cliffhanger finish.
But, in truth, Wexford always had a far greater scoring threat and, while they failed to find the target in those dying seconds, they always looked the side more capable of doing so throughout. That was little consolation for Galway's player-of-the-match contender Niamh Kilkenny, or veterans like Veronica Curtin and captain Therese Maher, whose efforts to lift them in the second half couldn't be faulted.
Curtin was the only starter involved when Galway won their only senior title back in 1996. For Maher, losing her second final in three years, and fourth in total, was gut-wrenching.
"It's an absolutely devastated dressing-room in there," she admitted. "No amount of words is going to console anybody. You come to Croke Park to win but it's another day over, another All-Ireland lost."
Like manager Noel Finn, she pointed out that Galway's U-16 and minor titles this year gives them plenty of optimism for the future, but their pain was plain to see.
Finn's decision to start Jessica Gill, who had cruciate surgery last winter, in her first game of the summer will be debated. It meant reshuffling their attack and starting in-form Veronica Curtin at corner-forward.
She didn't get into the game until moved to the wing after 25 minutes and finished the game with just one late score.
Finn had hoped Gill's quality and good form in training might help unlock Wexford's teak-tough defence but that was not to be, thanks to the brilliance of full-back Catherine O'Loughlin, Mary Leacy and corner-back Claire O'Connor.
O'Connor's resilience, particularly in the second half, nicked her the player-of-the-match award in a great team defensive performance where Ciara Storey (Martin's daughter) did well after replacing early injury victim Karen Atkinson.
It is worth noting that even against a player like Curtin, O'Connor maintained her record of not conceding one score to any of her direct markers all summer, the litmus test of any corner-back.
In the first half, all of Wexford's stars were up front. Una Leacy and Ursula Jacob's power was immense and, despite the attention of Regina Glynn, the brilliant Katrina Parrock continued her virtually telepathic partnership with sparkling club-mate Kate Kelly.
Wexford were four points clear after 26 minutes and their goal, from Parrock, came just before half-time and was brilliantly set up by Michelle O'Leary, Kelly and Una Leacy.
Five of Wexford's forwards had scored by the break when only one of Galway's four scores, from Orla Kilkenny, came from play.
Despite seeing their penalty saved, Lorraine Ryan and Emma Kilkenny rallied Galway at midfield on the re-start, and Aisling Connolly's excellence from placed balls kept them in touch.
But only three of their scores came from play and, just like their 2008 final loss, their inability to score freely from play ultimately proved their downfall.
Scorers -- Wexford: U Jacob 0-6 (0-4f), K Parrock 1-2, K Kelly 0-2, U Leacy, M O'Leary 0-1 each. Galway: A Connolly 1-6 (0-5f, 2 '45's), E Kilkelly, O Kilkenny, V Curtin, J Gill (0-1f) 0-1 each.
Wexford -- M D'Arcy 7; C O'Connor 9, C O'Loughlin 8, K Atkinson (inj); N Lambert 8, M Leacy 8 A O'Connor 7; C Murphy 7, D Codd 7; K Kelly 8, U Leacy 8 (Capt), M O'Leary 7; K Parrock 8, U Jacob 8, J Dwyer 6. Subs: C Storey 7 for Atkinson (13), L Holohan 6 for Codd (53).
Galway -- S Earner 7; S Tannian 7, S Dervan 6, R Glynn 6; N Kilkenny 8, AM Hayes 6, T Manton 6; B Hanney 6, O Kilkenny 7; C Murray 5, T Maher (Capt) 8, A Connolly 8; T Rutledge 6, J Gill 6, V Curtin 7. Subs: L Ryan 7 for Murray (28), E Kilkelly 7 for Rutledge (h-t), H Cooney 6 for Manton (39), N McGrath 7 for Gill (56), A Lynskey for Orla Kilkenny (60).
Ref -- K O'Brien (Dublin).